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Lund University industrial design students collaborate with NASA


Larry Toups with the students from Lund (L), and student Sofie Woge (R).

Student Gustav with Astronaut Don Pettit and prototype of waste shredding system.

Lund University professor Per Liljekvist with the students.

Every year since 1999, the Master’s students in Industrial Design at Lund University have done what most design students around the world can only dream of – go to NASA in Houston, Texas, USA and study at the Johnson Space Center. There they design products for the most extreme environment – space.

“The missions to Mars that the students from Lund have been studying will happen somewhere between 2030 and 2040,” says Larry Toups, a member of the Exploration Mission Planning Office at the Johnson Space Center, and continues:

“The students come to Houston and we introduce them to the idea of the needs of an astronaut who is away on a mission to Mars for three years. They learn to understand the habitat that the astronauts have to live in and all the challenges that presents. The students then focus on an area or idea that seems interesting to them. So when we go into the projects, there are no actual predefined requirements for the products they will design.”

A confidence boost

“The thought of going to NASA was a bit daunting at first,” says student Sofie Woge. “I didn’t know what to expect or whether I would really be able to do the task. But once we arrived in Houston the atmosphere was very welcoming and we were shown the big library where we could embark on research that would eventually lead to our own creative ideas. It was interesting to discover that the people at NASA are just people as well. My confidence was definitely boosted. I can’t talk too much about the outcome of my work yet because I am planning to continue the development of my product for my dissertation and I am still collaborating with NASA on this.”

Message received

Linyuzi “Lindsay” Zhang from China is in Lund on the Ingvard Kamprad Scholarship, which covers tuition fees and living costs. She knew already when she applied that the curriculum would include travelling to the US and studying at NASA.
“I chose to do a project that has to do with the mental challenge of being away from your loved ones. As an international student with a great distance and time difference between me and my family, I felt like I could relate to how it would feel for the astronauts to be away for so long, as well as having the issue of message delay, meaning that the transmission of messages will take so much longer between earth and the space shuttle. I was curious to see how this affects the astronauts and to design a product that could help them visualise the message travelling. After my experiment and research, I found that ‘knowing’ the message had been sent and/or a reply was on its way helped reduce the anxiety that waiting can cause.”

Waste in space

Another big issue in space was identified by Gustav Lindholm. What can be done with the large amount of waste on board space crafts? How can it be reused and transformed into something new? This is where the idea for the manual waste shredding system was born. This shredder would enable the reuse of the waste as either compost for growing food or plastic granules to make new items through 3D printing.

“One of the most important things about our course is designing for space, but having earth life at the back of our minds. We are moving towards a more sustainable society and in a few years 3D printing will be present in every home, so I am hoping to elaborate on my product idea, both for NASA and for our society here on earth”, says Gustav.

“I found the whole experience of the project to be very interesting and I met some extremely fascinating and humble people at the Johnson Space Center who helped me explore my ideas.”

A unique opportunity

In October 2015 the next batch of students will be making their way to Houston, an opportunity that is only granted to the talented students on the Industrial Design programme at Lund University.

“The Lund University collaboration with NASA is as far as I know, the only collaboration within this field at this level”, says Larry Toups. “We have other projects with universities in the US, but then it is usually a specific project that the students design for. Here it is open ended. The intention is to have creative designers. They should not be space architects, instead this is an opportunity for the students to grow individually and uncover creativity in a context that they are not used to. It opens up for innovation. And at NASA we know that working with the highly motivated students from Lund will always have a positive outcome for us as well.”